Julien & Mary dropped me off in Donibane Garazi (St Jean Pied de Port in Basque). A small, but very touristic town that I already spent a fair amount of time in 2 years ago. Its nested at the foot of the Pyrenees divide and the Basque culture thrives here. Narrow streets, red and white houses with tile roofs, balconies that also create shelter when walking on the streets when its raining. A river cuts the town in half with an ancient bridge crossing it, next to the cathedral, that pilgrims (and everyone else) have crossed for ages. Bakeries/tourist shops/pilgrim shops and a few supermarkets on the edges. Overlooking it all is a sort of fort or chateau, now turned into a school or something. The campsite is located fairly close to the city centre with a cool view of the cathedral. Normally when its open, its busy as shit. Now, deserted..and not just because its COVID season, but Im sure its not helping.
I dropped my bag at a local bar (Chez Luiz) and I walked around town looking for anything to put my tent up. The town isn’t that big and the church, parallel to that the campsite, was my first stop. It was nice to be back, the air just tastes better here. I ran into a guy who smelled like alcohol and he told me he was squatting a house nearby, uhmmm I didn’t really have a good feeling about it so I decided to decline for now.
The weather wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and at the campsite, a quick inspection showed that the shower stalls weren’t all that closed. As long as Im out of the wind and the rain, its alright in my book. Bad weather tends to build up against the mountains on either side of the Pyrenees and it can storm pretty hard in this area. Looking at my weather app this was probably going to be the case for the upcoming days/week. I really hoped that I could cross the normal mountains but I would have to see if theres snow on the mountains when its daylight.
The pilgrim office is worked by the kindest, pussies you’ve ever encountered in your life that usually steer away from ANY and ALL kinds of danger. Im not taking their advice lightly but they they just want to take absolutely no chances whatsoever. They are also unbiased in their advice, like everybody is in the same situation. 2 years ago it didn’t matter if you were a pilgrim in the prime of his life or if you were an 80 year old pilgrim with a jetleg/hangover from drinking last night. Still.. bless their heart. Im sure they have the best intention but to me its kind of insulting NOR do they own the mountain. Taking the top of the mountain away from pilgrims is insulting to me next to sheer hubris thinking they own the mountain.
Still the mountains are pretty unpredictable and hard to pass, the whole mountain is littered with crosses and memorials and 2 years ago, gendermarie stopped me at some point to ask if I’d seen a guy with a heart condition that was missing. The environment is harsh and bad weather pops up out of nowhere. Still its a doable route with only the climb being pretty harsh, but once you cross a certain plateau it becomes more flat and easy to do.
I had a rough night in the shower cabins but like usual, everything held up and me and Lucy were warm enough. Thunder bounced off the mountains creating an echo of terror rolling through the countryside. Pretty intimidating and Lucy crawled in my sleeping bag at some point. I wanted to make some minor changes to the thing and theres nothing that a little duct tape cant fix in this world.
I packed some of my stuff and walked to Chez Luiz, the owner of the bar (Luiz) was in the US for a long time so his English is very well. A good samaritan that also took it on himself to feed the stray dogs that stroll around town. He also gave me a drink for free every now and again and one of the things he liked to say was the secret of good business is making good friends. I was looking forward to seeing him again and I hoped he still remembered me. Next to this I had a couple of other objectives like getting new slippers. I bought slippers here back in the day, handmade from some African country and they were some serious Jesus stompers. 3 bands, 2 around the feet and 1 around the big toe and mannn, I dont even care how ridiculous they look. Too bad the store didnt have them, or at least have to find them. The store itself is like a museum from another part of the world, statue’s (that are probably cursed), woven baskets/wall carpets and its just a treat to crawl through the store. The lady was pretty sure they weren’t easy to find and that I would have to come back later. I walked on towards the supermarket dodging rain here and there.
On the way back I went by the nice people from the pilgrim office. They already didn’t shake hands due to the corona virus although they weren’t that surprised to see me, apparently there were already a lot of pilgrims and I guess its just always pilgrims here. They gave me a nice map and explained to me, slowly, about the route that I should take. I told them the mountains looked good and that Im waiting for maybe up to a week to cross and that I was also watching the size of the river (more water means more melting) but it all fell on deaf ears. Everything was closed, no water, you couldnt pass etc. Etc. They only advised me the route they wanted people to take and I just went along with it..
The route they recommended was over a normal road, towards the next couple of towns, there were supermarkets everywhere until you finally made the climb of all of the 400m of pure fucking excitement.. For your comparison – the normal route takes you up to about 1200m divided in a couple of very steep ascends at first, leveling off at about 1000m. So in all regards, this was the kitty route. But its fine, they gave me a stamp and I talked a little to them about the corona virus, they had some problems with it but nothing too much. A couple of Korean pilgrims came in after me and they ran em through the same routine.
The weather was on and off, rainstorms coming in and causing chaos just before dying down and sunshine for the rest of the afternoon. Very unpredictable to say the least. As long as its above freezing during the day and rain and sun switched with each other, I had good hopes of doing the normal route, keeping an eye on the weather constantly. My weather radar app said it would be clearing up the week after and this week was just looking like absolute mayhem unlike I had seen before on this trip, it added to the atmosphere though.
Not my sleeping spot
I love this town, its a pilgrim Mecca. The cathedral is nice and ancient, small statues of pilgrims dot the town, the stones on the main street are in a shell pattern and yea I was looking forward to meeting some pilgrims here. Could already see some leaving that morning and yea, its going to be busy..